Monday, April 28, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 3: Field Trip Recap/Observations

Well, Don's back.  Or some facsimile of Don - de-clawed, de-fanged, and cowed. Possibly more shocking than the lawnmower scene from Season 3 was seeing Don say yes to the partners' offer at the end.  No one-on-one with clients, no drinking, no ad-libbing. Pre-approved scripts and - it's hard to type this - reporting to Lou.  As we all yelled "No!" somehow Don ignored us and said "Okay."

There is a war brewing at SC&P and has been since Jim Cutler decided he wanted to be the top dog. It's a house divided and we're set up for some fireworks as Don tries to reintegrate himself into the firm.  Don is so desperate to right all wrongs that he's not thinking clearly. This new "stay and fix this" obsession of his will likely be as successful as his old "cut and run" attitude.  Don has no wiggle room at SC&P, one mistake and he's over - and likely wearing that "The End Is Near" sandwich board Roger joked about.  He could have gone to California and lived off his money if he really loves Megan or even moved to a new agency if he wants to get back into the game.  But he chose neither.  For some reason, he needs to make it right there, at the place where he started.

So, speaking of starts, where should we? Don is still relying on Dawn to feel less diminished, to retain some sense that he's still "Don Draper," but our new head of personnel does not have the time to keep buoying him.  He needs those nightly visits when he can put on the suit and pretend he's still that guy.  But Dawn is not his gopher anymore and he's losing what little connection he had to his old self.  Added to that sad thought is the mention of Megan's agent as the only call he received today.  Don reluctantly returns the call (after Dawn had to put Don on hold!) and he finds out that Megan's agent is worried about her behavior.  Seems she doesn't deal well with rejection.  She's stalking casting directors and otherwise coming off way too desperate.  So Don flies out to California to help her, give her a pep talk and get her to relax.  Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Instead, his presence only brings their troubled relationship to a head. She knows something is up - she assumes he's cheating.  As if!  The truth, when she finally gets it from Don, is actually worse. He's chosen to stay away from her not to be with anyone else, but just not to be with her.  Don, as he did successfully with Sally on Valentine's Day, comes clean and tells Megan that he was embarrassed for her to see him as a failure.  But this reluctant honesty doesn't bring them closer, it only makes her feel worse.  Finding out that he doesn't even know her well enough to realize that she wouldn't have thought him a failure, that she could have handled the truth, is more than Megan can handle.  He tries apologizing, he tells her he loves her, but Megan is unmoved. She asks him to leave.

SC&P has some good news - Ginsburg and Stan have been nominated for a Clio for their work on Playtex. Harry has calmed a client's nerves with some creative word gymnastics. And Peggy.  Oh, well, things are still not coming up roses for our gal. Not only did she not get a Clio nomination for her inspired Rosemary's Baby-themed commercial, but she found out Jim didn't even submit it for consideration.  Then, in her pitch with Lou, it's more of the same from him - he doesn't like her pitch or the money and time she's wasting trying to sell it.
We get our first glimpse of Betty.  She's looking fine and catching up with our favorite best friend Francine. Betty is still Betty, all wound up with nowhere to go.  But Francine is taking her place in the burgeoning women's movement and finding fulfillment outside of the home. Betty is her condescending self, noting that she still has a young child so can't be as carefree as Francine. Cut from that scene to the truth - where Betty has someone else raising her kids.

Don calls Dave Wooster about that job offer and meets at the Algonquin Hotel to discuss it.  Wells, Rich and Greene make him a nice offer, a pretty blonde he doesn't recognize makes an even nicer one.  But he ends up turning them both down.  Instead, we see Don go see Roger.

The Roger-Don relationship has been at the heart of this show since midway in the first Season.  As we discovered as the show went on, Roger did not exactly discover Don and Don did not exactly get his job through normal channels.  It was a curious and a bit nebulous dance that resulted in Don coming to work at Sterling Cooper in the first place, but what is clear is that Don's creativity helped build it into the company that it was.  There is a fondness between the two, yet there have been rifts in the past.  Not quite a father-son relationship, more older brother-kid brother, with them butting heads at times yet - as against the outside world - they remain united.

Roger may be perpetually in a drug and alcohol infused fog and may not care about anything or anyone anymore - his lunch with daughter Margaret was uncomfortable and devoid of any feeling - but it seemed genuine when he told Don he missed him.  Now, true, Roger may miss not just having someone who gets his jokes and can be a drinking buddy but also having someone on his side at the office.  With Don gone, Roger is alone at SC&P, marginalized to the point of afterthought.  His ex-mistress is now aligned with his arch enemy and even his old partner no longer defers to him.  Roger needs Don as much as Don needs him.  And perhaps that's always been their dynamic.

Don goes to Roger (instead of pursuing the comely stranger/working girl who flirts with him at the dinner) and, armed with an offer from a rival firm, asks him what he's wanted to know since last Thanksgiving.  Why would he let that happen to Don, why didn't he fight for him.  He calls Roger "Judas" (perhaps Don has a Christ complex to go with his other problems?) and admits finally, out loud, that he knew he was being fired - not put on leave.  He's hurt and he's mad, but he's finally ready to find out if there's any hope to fix what is broken.  At first, Roger defends the partners' decision and rightly so.  Don was a wreck, he'd completely fallen apart.  Being put on leave was the best thing they could have done for him, he'd be dead or locked up or wandering the streets if he kept on the path he was on.  So that's it?, Don in effect asks.  There's no place for him at SC&P?
Don: So I have my answer.
Roger: I didn't know the question! You want to come back? Come back. I miss you.

It was great to finally see Betty again even if she's no further along in her personal development than she was in Season One.  Her attempt at being the ideal mother falls flat.  She looks the part - just like how she looked in those Coca Cola ad shoot in Season One.  But inside there's no motherly instinct - just cold detachment and selfishness. She takes everything like a personal attack and to her Bobby trading her sandwich to some girl is just Don cheating on her all over again.  She doesn't see how excited Bobby is to have her there for the field trip, how proud he is that she tried the fresh milk and how devotedly he protected her spot on the blanket. All she knows is he had the nerve to give away her sandwich to some girl!  She can only see it in terms of what it means to her, not that he was being kind or helpful .  She takes everything so personally.    

Henry, poor patient, put-upon Henry, tries to get to the bottom of Bobby's sadness and her pique but there are no answers.  Betty fears that her kids hate her and with Sally musing about her being dead last week and Bobby wishing the whole day away, it's hard to deny her concerns. 

Later, back in New York, Don calls Megan and is hoping his decision to go back to work will show her he's on the right track.  He apologizes and tells her his trying to fix things.  He is as open as Don ever gets, admitting his charade and explaining it as best he can.  But for Megan, right now it's too little too late.  He doesn't get that he made a choice many months ago to live alone in New York with her clear across the country for no reason.  He had no job, no reason to be there, but every day he created this false story of a job he had to be at rather than be with her.  Megan understandably feels that he's been pushing her away and any mea culpas ignore the deep nature of their rift.  He says "I love you," she replies, tersely, "Good night."

The most awkward day at Sterling Cooper (and remember we've had a suicide and a dismemberment) is about to start.  Don comes into work just after nine a.m., but Roger isn't there and hasn't told anyone that Don was coming in.  Don might as well have been gone for ten years - the place is already so changed from when he left in disgrace.  Lou Avery is in his office, Dawn is no longer on the desk, there's a new receptionist, and some new faces.  He seems lost at sea.  An anchor by the name of Ginsberg comes in and rescues him.  Michael immediately starts talking shop with Don, which is just what Don needs.  He's happy to sit down and go over copy - this is something he can do.

The various reactions to Don's appearance are telling.  Michael, Stan and Dawn are happy, if surprised.  Meredith is drooling.  Ken is so excited to share his new baby picture with Don.  But Joan is angry and does nothing to hide her disdain for Don (she's not forgotten Jaguar) and Lou is apoplectic - reminding Jim that he has a contract and that things could get ugly when Don is forced out.  Jim and even Bert do not want Don to be there and had thought they'd never have to see him again.  Only Roger wants him to come back.

Don is powerless, at the mercy of everyone else's response to his existence.  He is a mirror and what he sees is the reflection is the effect he's had on everyone in the office - for good or, mostly, for bad.  Nowhere is that more evident than in Peggy's disgusted (and unnecessary) dig at him. She's resigned to the fact that whether Don comes back is not up to her.  But she makes sure he knows that it's not with her support.  Her "I can't say that we miss you" may be worded just a wee bit too cute - maybe she's in effect saying that they miss Don (at least his creativity and spark) but that she can't say that.  Some part of her has to recognize that Lou is not aiding the creative process and that she's become marginalized, but a bigger part of her resents Don - for not appreciating her more, for Ted, for so many slights over the years.

The agonizingly long wait - for us the viewers as well as for Don - before he's summoned before the partners is just the end to a long, brutal day for Don.  Imagine spending some ten hours at the place you built, the place you were banished from after revealing the darkest part of yourself, and hoping you're given a chance to come back.  The work day continues around you and you're watching other people living your life and wondering if you'll be allowed to step back in.

Then, finally, he walks into the conference room and hears their offer.  And it's awful - emasculating, humiliating, infantilizing.  Who listening to all the restrictive provisions expected Don to do anything but stand up from the table, slowly button his coat, and stride out of the office?  But this job, this company, means something more to Don than we - or they- understand.  And so, with the most offhanded response, he listens to their extraordinarily rigid and restrictive terms and acts as if they're nothing.  "Okay."


The movie Don was watching at the beginning was Model Shop starring Gary Lockwood (who also starred in 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before) and French actress Anouk Aimée. New York Times movie reviewer Vincent Canby wrote  at the time that the movie was more about Los Angeles with many scenes involving cars and discussing the "Baroque geometry" of the city than anything else.  His brief description: "[T]he movie covers 24 hours in the life of a disenchanted young man, whose affair with a staggeringly dense, would-be actress is breaking up. He meets a [recently divorced photographer], falls in love with her, and after much coffee house philosophy about war, marriage, love and politics, they part."

Here's a clip of the final scene, where the photographer tells her would-be boyfriend, "I thought you'd make an effort so that things could work out. I really thought it was possible, a simple happy life. I didn't know that you didn't want it, that you didn't love me anymore."

The song at the end was "If 6 Was 9" written and recorded by Jimi Hendrix.  Check it out here.  As you might expect of a song of that time, it's about individualism and marching to your own drum beat.  The lines that seem to resonate for Don's situation:
Don't nobody know what I'm talkin' about
I've got my own life to live
I'm the one that's gonna die when it's time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to
The book Jim Cutler held up to Harry was Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death which dealt with the way funeral homes take advantage of those in their time of grief for profit.  The original came out in 1963 and she revisited the topic just before her death in 1996.  You can get the book here.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it was so sad to see how needy Don was at the beginning.  His call to Dawn  where he starts, "glad I caught you" - thinking she was already on her way (and he'd suited up for her visit!).  Then suggesting she come later when she said how busy she was.

So many call backs to Season One:  Francine, picnics, carousel, Betty on a blanket (like the Coke ad), Don being approached by a rival agency and using it with Roger, guy talking about getting married and borrowing money from his parents (shades of Pete), Francine even called Betty "Betty Draper," the "how do you sleep?" question (which Don answered that time with, "on a bed full of money"), Don having a clandestine call about his wife (then with Betty's therapist, now with Megan's agent) even his future at the office (back then, would Bert fire him for not being Don Draper, now, would they not rehire him for being Don Draper).

There was also a call back to Season 4 Episode 6, Waldorf Stories.  In that episode we learned how Don first worked his way into Sterling Cooper, starting by putting his business card in the bottom of the fur box Roger gave to Joan.  In fact, Roger says to Don that he found him in the bottom of a fur box.  In reality, Don went out to lunch with Roger, got him drunk, and used Roger's condition to con his way into a job by just showing up the next day and telling him Roger had hired him during that lunch.  This time, Don shows up at the office because Roger did actually tell him to come in, yet no one else knew about it and Don had to wait an entire day for Roger to come in and make it actually happen.

Notice the thick cloud of smog suspended just above the hills as we look out of the Hollywood agent's office.  Having lived in LA in 1969 I can tell you, it's not an exaggeration.  But it used to make for pretty sunsets. 

Bobby and Betty were "having a conversation" about super heroes.  It harkens back to some of the comments people in the show have made in the past about Don being either Batman (Harry in "Marriage of Figaro") or Superman (Ken Cosgrove's wife in "Signal 30" and Megan in "For Immediate Release").  It also parallels the idea that when he puts on the suit, he becomes this man with super powers - the alliterative Don Draper - not the nebbish Dick Whitman.  For more on the habit of giving superhero alter-egos alliterative names, check out this video.

Also, the phrase itself is reminiscent of Season 2, Episode 4 "Three Sundays" when Sally is visiting the office with her father and she goes up to Paul Kinsey (the only person not "resting" at the moment) and says, "Let's have a conversation."

The "adequate" word was used twice - once to describe Megan's auditions and once to describe Lou as a worker.  Such high praise!  Meanwhile, Don is called a genius.

Don could have been talking to himself, instead of Megan, when he said, of the rejection she'd been receiving "You can't let it erode your confidence. And you can't get angry or desperate."  Desperate Don surely was when he went to see Roger.  He had an offer from a good firm (and hints from at least one other firm that they might be interested).  Yet he ran straight to Roger.  Why?  Why is it that what he needs can only come from SC&P?  It's not enough for him to be a successful adman he has to fix things there.  That seems monumentally more important than anything else. 

If you're trying to keep your wife happy, FYI calling her crazy and a lunatic are not a good idea.

Don was so hush-hush about interviewing with other firms he had a pseudonym, Clarence Birdseye, for when he called.  Birdseye was the spokesman for his own frozen food line of products in some down home commercials back in the day.

Was Harry fired?  In the board meeting, this brief exchange occurs:
"I think it's more important we discuss Harry Crane.  Harry Crane? He's gone."  Last we saw Harry, he was walking out on his conversation with Jim Cutler, telling him to kill the interview he'd set up. Then tension between Harry and the rest of the firm has been around for years, most notably last year when he complained about Joan's partner status when his department was responsible for bringing in so much money to the firm.  Is he finally moving on?  Doubtful, since he's bringing in the lion's share of the money.  But the comment was still strange.

When will Dawn finally have enough of Don treating her like his secretary and pour coffee on his head or assign Meredith to be his new secreitary?  She's put up with his crap for long enough and he can get his own goddamn coffee.  She's the head of personnel now and needs to assert herself.

Lou's mention of Don going all Longfellow Deeds is a reference to the Gary Cooper character who, in the climactic scene of Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, punches an attorney (who's bringing the case to have the man committed for insanity) in the face.  Deeds, like Don, came from nothing and became wealthy, though in the former's case it was from an unexpected inheritance.  Check out the 1936 original, but not the 2002 Adam Sandler remake. 

It was like old home week. Francine! Betty! Bobby 5.0! Henry! Harry!

The Time Magazine cover that Don was looking at had former President Eisenhower on the cover.  That issue came out the week of April 4, 1969, which is less than two months after the original release date of the movie Don was watching. 

Can't ignore the scene with Betty and Francine.  It was so great seeing the power pantsuited Francine, all confident and worldly.  But of course Betty can't even show enough interest to get Francine's new job right (and the little dig about taking the real estate licensing exam again). Francine has come a long way from the woman we saw falling apart on the couch worried her husband Carlton was cheating. She's really adapted to the changing times and is finding her way - and all that is very threatening to Betty. She takes Francine's happiness and fulfillment as a personal affront. She goes home on a mission to prove that she's a great mother and is not wasting her life or missing out on anything.  But, the more she tries to prove something the worse it gets because she's looking for perfection and there is no such thing. She's doomed to fail.


Michael: But you shouldn't give them the power to decide who shall live and who shall die.

Lou: Who got your pantyhose in a knot?

Michael: That's comforting.  You weren't rejected.  You weren't even considered.

Francine: One of my clients told me that I redefined his definition of first class.

Harry: Did you not call for a fireman?

Jim (to Harry): Are you aware your self-pity is distasteful?

Harry: You know what? This conversation is over.

Megan: I've never, ever admitted that I've wanted this.

Megan:  It's sunny here for everyone but me. I'm walking around in a cloud of "no."

Don: You can't let it erode your confidence.  And you can't get angry or desperate.

Megan:  So you came out here to what? Pull me out of a bathtub where I slit my wrists?

Don:  I don't know if they want me or they don't want me.

Don: I messed up and I didn't want you to know until I fixed it.

Megan: So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided that you didn't want to be with me?

Megan: This is the way it ends.

Jim: You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with.

Don (to Roger): How do you sleep at night?

Don: I guess you don't remember I started that company. I had to talk you into it.
Roger: I guess you forgot I found you at the bottom of a fur box.
Don: I would never have done that to you.

Roger: The man who talked to Hershey? I've seen that man wandering the street with a sandwich board saying "The End is Near."

Roger (to Don):  I miss you.

Don (to Megan): I shouldn't have lied to you. I'm sorry and I want everything to be okay.

Don: I can see now that I wasn't thinking clearly and I had this logic to what I did and hopefully now things can be the way we want them to be because I'm going back to the agency.
Don: I don't know if I can undo it, but I think I fixed it.
Don: I thought if you found out what happened, you wouldn't look at me the same way.... I know how I want you to see me.

Megan:  Stop pushing me away with both hands.

Bobby: We were having a conversation.

Bobby: She really likes you.
Betty: Yes, well, that blouse says she likes everyone.

Don: Ready to get back to work.
Lou: Good for you.

Michael (to Don):  Boy, you smell good.

Roger:  I don't have to tell anybody. That's my name on the door out there.

Joan: We were allowing him to preserve his dignity while seeking other employment.

Jim: Lou is adequate.

Roger (to Jim): Since when are you allowed to use the words "long term" in this office?

Roger: Do you want to walk into the room and find Mary Wells sitting on Don’s lap the next time you go in to present?

Bobby: I wish it was yesterday. 

Peggy: Well, I can't say that we miss you. 

Betty: It was a perfect day and he ruined it. 

Betty: Do you think I'm a good mother?
Henry: Of course. 
Betty: Then why don't they love me?

Don: Okay.

Suicide Count:
Megan's comment about slitting her wrist.
Don assigned to Lane's office.
Less likely, Lou's comment about calling security (he's more worried about Don being violent than suicidal).

Whore Count:
The girl at the Algonquin.

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